The MPSF finals seems to have come early this year. Although the finals are still a few weeks away, the Cal women’s water polo team will travel to Irvine this weekend to compete in the UCI Invitational.
Of the 16 teams in the tournament, all are ranked in the top 20. With the squads ranks one through seven all coming from the MPSF conference, the invite will essentially be a preview for the end-of-the-year conference tournament.
The UCI Invite marks the halfway point in the season for the Bears, who understand that the days of experimentation are over and the home stretch is upon them.
“We got the trial runs over with at Stanford, now it’s more about perfection,” said freshman Tiera Schroeder. “Everyone is excited, a lot of confidence also.”
Cal is seeded in Pool D along with No. 5 Arizona State, No. 14 UC Davis and No. 15 UC Santa Barbara. The Bears open competition on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. against the Gauchos, a team they beat earlier this year, 11-7.
Despite strong play by junior Shelby Haroldson who has 27 assists and 23 steals on the year, UC Santa Barbara is coming off a disappointing seventh-place finish at the UCSD Invitational.
“(Santa Barbara) will come out to fight and battle very aggressively, because they want to try and get in the top eight of this tournament,” said Cal coach Richard Corso.
If Cal wins, it will play the victor of the ASU-UC Davis game at 4:30 p.m. with the later stages of the tournament played on Sunday.
The Bear’s offensive attack is led by junior Bred Vosters, who has scored 25 goals in 12 matches this season. Vosters netted three goals in the first quarter in Cal’s 8-3 victory over No. 8 San Jose State last weekend and was consequently named MPSF Player of the Week for the performance.
Although the Bears hope to play smart offensively with multiple situational plays, their defense will be the key to advancing deep into the tournament.
“If the ball is not going in, say it’s hitting the bar or the sun is in my eyes, you have to rely on one thing and the thing that keeps the team together is their defense,” Corso said.
Cal’s defense was its strongest asset in the Feb. 18 victory over the Spartans, and the Bears hope to continue this trend. At the beginning of the year, especially in the Spartan and Stanford Invitationals, the squad suffered from inconsistent efforts in which poor play was mixed in with flashes of brilliance.
Over the course of the season, the Bears have perfected a team defense built on individual effort, a strength that can lead to success at the UCI Invitational.
“Our defense, all about intensity, is getting better,” Corso said. “It’s not about being intense for three to four minutes. We have to play very aggressive, lots of hustle on every defensive series. We want to be in the championship game.”